End AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
That was the pledge made earlier this month by participants in an interfaith prayer service at the United Methodist-owned Church Center for the United Nations.
The call to action issued by religious leaders focuses on reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing access to HIV services; defending human rights and ensuring testing and treatment for all, including children, reported the World Council of Churches, which sponsored the service.
Their pledges preceded the June 8-10 U.N. High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS. The meeting declaration — setting targets to combat HIV and AIDS over the next five years — brought both commendation and criticism, including the failure to mention faith in the outlined solutions and a “lack of language” regarding the key populations affected by HIV/AIDS.
How are United Methodists responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis? The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund was established by the 2004 General Conference to strengthen the church’s compassionate response to the pandemic. The fund supports programs that focus on prevention, advocacy, testing and counseling.
United Methodist News Service asked Linda Bales Todd and the Rev. Donald Messer, the fund’s co-chairs, to reflect on the fund’s work and upcoming goals.
Q: At a June 7 prayer service, a number of faith groups pledged to call on their own communities to support a plan to eliminate AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Is that something United Methodists will be involved with?
A: Absolutely. We will be integrating the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030 into our overall publicity and will certainly promote any forthcoming resources from the World Council of Churches. The four areas of focus outlined in the WCC’s call to action parallel the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund’s existing work:
- Reduce stigma and discrimination
- Increase access to services
- Defend human rights
- Ensure treatment for children (the fund does not provide drug treatment, but will be working with United Methodist clinics and hospitals via the health boards to ensure access.)
Additionally, the Global AIDS Fund has already brokered a partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for future initiatives that may result in additional partnerships with other worldwide denominations.
Q: Outside of scheduled events, like the pre-conference workshop and vigil for those who died of AIDS, did HIV/AIDS as a ministry concern get any kind of traction at General Conference 2016?
A: The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund heightened awareness and provided AIDS education during General Conference through several actions, which infused a level of energy into an issue that often has been marginalized by the denomination:
- On three separate occasions, the fund distributed items to delegates reminding them that AIDS is not over and the importance of staying involved with this global health crisis as well as information about how to contribute to the Global AIDS Fund Advance.
- In addition, our oral presentation put a human face on the AIDS issue through a video featuring Sharon Thomas, a woman from Ohio who is HIV positive. Sharon's experiences with the West Ohio Healing Weekend included her plea for The United Methodist Church to stand strong in its support for AIDS ministries for those living with HIV/AIDS and their caregivers.
- The fund's petition for the Book of Resolutions generated both discussion and action in the legislative committee and on the floor of the General Conference, which resulted in wide support for the fund’s continuation and its global and local programmatic ministries, including the funding of projects.
- The General Council on Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table both made a financial commitment to the Global AIDS Fund for our ongoing work.
Q: Will the renewed emphasis on Global Health, led by the Board of Global Ministries, help increase denominational attention on the Global Fund?
A: Over the next four years, the Global AIDS Fund will strengthen its partnership with Global Ministries through Global Ministries’ Maternal and Child Health focus. That will serve as a way of integrating HIV and AIDS into related issues, such as nutrition, women's empowerment, children's health and prevention of HIV positive newborns, reduction of violence against women and children; and anti-malaria initiatives. Our funding strategy will strongly encourage community partnerships and collaboration with the respective health boards.
Another focus is strengthening the fund’s involvement with U.S. annual conferences in an effort to motivate more people in local congregations to learn about and respond to the ongoing AIDS epidemic in their communities and states.
Q: What are other goals for the next four years?
A: One primary goal is to help United Methodists respond to the continuing AIDS crisis through education and advocacy. We will sponsor three conferences —one in West Africa or the Philippines, a U.S. "Countdown to Zero" AIDS Conference in 2018 and a pre-General Conference event in 2020 — to help accomplish this goal.
Challenging unjust laws that discriminate against people due to their sexuality will be a part of our overall advocacy plan as we work in partnership with the Board of Church and Society and the AIDS Network, our primary database. Other vehicles for education and advocacy are our website, Facebook page and monthly newsletter.
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